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Involving a solicitor in a construction dispute shouldn’t be a matter of last resort

Nobody waits for a leaking pipe to cause a flood before calling a plumber.  Exactly the same principle applies to legal advice and disputes.  The longer you leave it before involving a solicitor in a construction dispute, the more damage may be caused.

As a Partner and the head of  the construction law practice at ORJ Solicitors I have come across a lot of disputes that could have been resolved very easily if tended to when they initially reared their heads. There is a great example at the end of this blog that goes into how a dispute was dealt with early but does highlight the issues the business could have had if ignored or help was sought when things got out of hand. Although this is a  construction specific example, the principle is the same with all potential disputes…

We are often told, ‘we don’t really have any legal issues or disputes, so we don’t need a lawyer’.  Whilst it may be correct that legal issues and disputes are dealt with in-house, without involving legal professionals; we are yet to find a construction business that doesn’t have legal issues and disputes.

Every contract (whether standard form or bespoke), final account meeting, disputed variation, allegation of defective work and prolongation claim contains a myriad of potential legal issues.  Often these issues are dealt with and agreed directly between the parties.  Such agreements invariably favour one of those parties and a proper understanding of the relevant law can make all the difference.

It is a common misconception that asking a solicitor for advice increases overall costs and invariably leads the parties to Court.  Legal advice can be obtained informally, without the other side even knowing about it; and in 90% of all cases, settlement is achieved before anybody ever gets near to a courtroom.

The primary goal of every legal professional should be to keep their clients away from disputes where possible; and where disputes are inevitable, to resolve them as quickly and cost effectively as possible.  Solicitors must examine and properly take account of the commercial realities under which their clients operate, and can do so by setting clear and achievable objectives from the outset.  This should all happen without undue delay and with entirely transparent costings.

In one recent case, our client was involved in a tripartite defective product claim, and faced issues concerning onerous limitations of liability and exclusions within an all risks insurance policy.  The potential downside for our client was more than £250,000, the eventual settlement (which came within weeks) cost them less than £20,000.  We were able to assist throughout the process, including the preparation of correspondence, interpretation of documents, without prejudice meeting briefings and strategic advice.  All of this advice was provided without the knowledge of the other parties and the final bill was hundreds, not thousands of pounds.

All of the above should be old news to you; if this is not the case, there could be a flood on the horizon.

For more articles related to disputes in construction, feel free to follow the following links:

If you feel you need to discuss a potential dispute further whether in the construction industry or not please follow the link to our website: construction dispute resolution or contact mike.smyth@orj.co.uk